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Open Access Publications from the University of California

White matter structure in older adults moderates the benefit of sleep spindles on motor memory consolidation

  • Author(s): Mander, BA
  • Zhu, AH
  • Lindquist, JR
  • Villeneuve, S
  • Rao, V
  • Lu, B
  • Saletin, JM
  • Ancoli-Israel, S
  • Jagust, WJ
  • Walker, MP
  • et al.

© 2017 the authors. Sleep spindles promote the consolidation of motor skill memory in young adults. Older adults, however, exhibit impoverished sleep-dependent motor memory consolidation. The underlying pathophysiological mechanism(s) explaining why motor memory consolidation in older adults fails to benefit from sleep remains unclear. Here, we demonstrate that male and female older adults show impoverished overnight motor skill memory consolidation relative to young adults, with the extent of impairment being associated with the degree of reduced frontal fast sleep spindle density. The magnitude of the loss of frontal fast sleep spindles in older adults was predicted by the degree of reduced white matter integrity throughout multiple white matter tracts known to connect subcortical and cortical brain regions. We further demonstrate that the structural integrity of selective white matter fiber tracts, specifically within right posterior corona radiata, right tapetum, and bilateral corpus callosum, statistically moderates whether sleep spindles promoted overnight consolidation of motor skill memory. Therefore, white matter integrity within tracts known to connect cortical sensorimotor control regions dictates the functional influence of sleep spindles on motor skill memory consolidation in the elderly. The deterioration of white matter fiber tracts associated with human brain aging thus appears to be one pathophysiological mechanism influencing subcortical–cortical propagation of sleep spindles and their related memory benefits.

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